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Psyllium is a type of fiber that acts as a gentle, bulk forming laxative.
Psyllium, similarly to other soluble fibers, passes through the small intestine without being completely broken down or absorbed.
This article explains all there is to know about psyllium, including seven ways it can benefit your health.
Psyllium is a soluble fiber derived from the seeds of Plantago ovata, an herb grown mainly in India (1).
People use psyllium as a dietary supplement. It is available in the form of husk, granules, capsules, or powder. Manufacturers may also fortify breakfast cereals and baked goods with psyllium.
Psyllium husk is the main active ingredient in Metamucil, a fiber supplement that reduces constipation.
Because of its excellent water solubility, psyllium can absorb water and become a thick, viscous compound that resists digestion in the small intestine.
Its resistance to digestion allows it to help regulate high cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar levels. It can also aid weight management and relieve mild diarrhea as well as constipation (2, 3, 4, 5).
Moreover, unlike some other potent sources of fiber, the body typically tolerates psyllium well.
Psyllium is available in various forms and has many health benefits.
1. Psyllium relieves constipation
Initially, it works by binding to partially digested food that is passing from the stomach into the small intestine.
It then helps with the absorption of water, which increases the size and moisture of stools. The end product is bigger and easier-to-pass stools.
One study found that psyllium, which is a soluble fiber, had a greater effect than wheat bran, which is insoluble fiber, on the moisture, total weight, and texture of stools (6).
Another study showed that taking 5.1 grams (g) of psyllium twice a day for 2 weeks significantly increased the water content and weight of stools, as well as the total number of bowel movements, in 170 individuals with chronic constipation (7).
For these reasons, taking psyllium supplements promotes regularity.
2. It may help treat diarrhea
In another older study, researchers treated eight people who had lactulose-induced diarrhea with 3.5 g of psyllium three times daily. Doing so increased their stomach emptying time from 69 to 87 minutes, with accompanied slowing in the colon, which meant fewer bowel movements (9).
Psyllium can, therefore, both prevent constipation and reduce diarrhea, effectively helping to normalize bowel movements.
3. It can lower blood sugar levels
Taking fiber supplements can help control the body’s glycemic response to a meal, such as reducing insulin and blood sugar levels. This is particularly the case with water soluble fibers such as psyllium (4, 10, 11).
In fact, psyllium works better for this mechanism than other fibers, such as bran. This is because the gel forming fibers in psyllium can slow down the digestion of food, which helps regulate blood sugar levels.
In one study, researchers gave 51 people with type 2 diabetes and constipation 10 g of psyllium twice per day. This resulted in reduced constipation, body weight, blood sugar levels, and cholesterol (12).
Because psyllium slows down the digestion of food, people should take it with food, rather than on its own, so it has a greater effect on blood sugar levels (13).
4. It may boost satiety and aid weight loss
Psyllium may aid appetite control by slowing down stomach emptying and reducing appetite. Decreased appetite and calorie intake may support weight loss.
One study found that taking up to 10.2 g of psyllium before breakfast and lunch led to significant reductions in hunger, desire to eat, and increased fullness between meals compared to a placebo (17).
Another older study from 2011 showed that psyllium supplementation on its own, as well as paired with a fiber-rich diet, resulted in a significant reduction of weight, body mass index, and percentage of body fat (18).
Researchers need to do more studies before knowing the true effects of psyllium on weight loss.
5. It can lower cholesterol levels
Psyllium binds to fat and bile acids, helping the body to excrete them.
In the process of replacing these lost bile acids, the liver uses cholesterol to produce more. As a result, blood cholesterol levels decrease (2).
In one study, 47 healthy participants experienced a 6% reduction in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol after taking 6 g of psyllium each day for 6 weeks (20).
Furthermore, psyllium can help increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels (21).
In one study, taking 5.1 g twice a day for 8 weeks resulted in a decrease in total and LDL cholesterol, as well as an increase in HDL levels in 49 people with type 2 diabetes (22).
Interestingly, a review of 21 studies reported that reductions in total and LDL cholesterol are dose dependent. This means greater results were observed with treatments of 20.4 g of psyllium per day than 3.0 g per day (21).
6. It seems to be good for the heart
All types of fiber can be good for the heart. The American Heart Association (AHA) say that dietary fiber can improve cholesterol, and lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and obesity (23).
A review of 28 trials found that taking a median of 10.2 g psyllium per day could effectively improve markers of heart health, including lowering LDL cholesterol. This can helps reduce the risk of heart disease (3).
7. It has prebiotic effects
Prebiotics are nondigestible compounds that nourish intestinal bacteria and help them grow. Researchers believe that psyllium has prebiotic effects (25).
Although psyllium is somewhat resistant to fermentation, intestinal bacteria can ferment a small portion of psyllium fibers. This fermentation can produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), including butyrate. Research has linked SCFAs with health benefits (26, 27).
Also, because it ferments more slowly than other fibers, psyllium does not increase gas and digestive discomfort.
Most people are able to tolerate psyllium well.
Also, psyllium could delay the absorption of certain medications, therefore, doctors often recommend that people avoid taking it with other medicines.
Although uncommon, some allergic reactions, such as rashes, itching, or trouble breathing, can result from ingesting or handling of psyllium (29).
Common dosages of psyllium are 5–10 g, with meals, at least once per day.
However, when it comes to fiber, more is not always better. It is important to take it with water and then drink water regularly throughout the day.
As a bulk laxative supplement, 5 g with a glass of water 3 times per day is a common starting point. People can increase this gradually if they find it tolerable.
It depends on the product how many grams are in 1 teaspoon or tablespoon, but 1 tablespoon is a common recommendation as a serving for psyllium husk.
It is best to follow the dosage instructions on the packaging or advice from a healthcare professional.
Psyllium is a common laxative. It can also relieve diarrhea and help reduce triglycerides, cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure levels.
People can include this fiber supplement in their nutrition regimen and take it regularly as part of a healthful diet.
If people want to buy psyllium, then there is a selection online with thousands of customer reviews.